Gone are the days when Godzilla ruled the screens of Japanese cinema with an iron claw. As evidence, Warehouse 21 hosts a film festival to illustrate just how far the Japanese film industry has come. Presented in collaboration with the Santa Fe-based Asian film distribution company Tidepoint Pictures, the two-day event includes a vast array of films, both animated and live-action, from some of Japan's most talked about young filmmakers. In addition, three American directors present their take on Japan's unique cultural heritage.---
One of the films featured, Genius Party, is diverse enough in content to be considered a sort of festival within a festival. It has also only been screened once before in the United States.
Each of the seven directors was given carte blanche to create an original film without any restrictions. They were limited only by their individual talents and their imagination.
The collection kicks off with the film from which it derives its name, Genius Party. Director Atsuko Fukushima blends tribal spiritual imagery with a frenetic animation style to create a gorgeous, trippy meditation on the cycle of life.
The next installment, Shanghai Dragon by Super Dimension Fortress Macross creator Shoji Kawamori, is straight-up, hyper kinetic anime served with a twist. The unlikely hero in this particular story is a small, mentally-challenged boy with a persistent running nose. Armed with a crystal dagger from the future that empowers him to bring anything he imagines to life, the boy tries to stay focused long enough to fend off the imminent destruction of the planet.
Then there's Shinji Kimura's Deathtic 4, a bizarre Tim Burton-esque story told using nearly two-dimensional CGI images. It's definitely weird and definitely unconventional, but it's also well-executed and kind of funny.
After that is the subtle and surreal Doorbell by Yoji Fukuyama. The premise of this short feels like it could have been lifted from a Haruki Murakami novel. When a young man starts seeing a duplicate of himself, he decides to do something about it. The director compensates for a more simplistic animation style with a clever and engaging story.
There is nothing even remotely subtle about Hideki Futamura's Limit Cycle. Repetitive, seizure-inducing images overlap, fold in on one another and generally freak out while a string of mostly incoherent metaphysical nonsense drones on in the background. This one probably makes more sense with the help of some legally prescribed, psychoactive narcotics.
Happy Machine from Masaaki Yuasa brings things back down to Earth, kind of. An infant wanders out of the artificial contraption intended to keep him pleasantly sedated, only to discover that the world outside is far more interesting.
Finally, Cowboy Bebop creator Shinichiro Watanabe draws things to a close with Baby Blue. In this segment, two teenagers skip school in favor of a bit of adventure. Like the director of Doorbell, Watanabe opts for a more realistic approach to his style of sentimental storytelling.
All of the other films featured in Bento Box Cinema are live-action, or at least predominantly live-action.
Kamikaze Girls is a kind of coming of age story about a young girl from a small village who likes to wear frilly dresses and dreams of living in 18th century Versailles. When she meets a tough-talking biker chick, the two form an unexpected friendship.
Late Bloomer is the story of Sumida, a boy disabled with cerebral palsy. After his secret love is stolen away by his best friend, Sumida seeks bloody revenge.
Of course, you don't have to be from Japan to make a quality film about Japan. In Eyes On Japan, three American directors present their individual perspectives on what it means to be Japanese via three very distinctive short films.
At the end of the day the moral of the story seems to be, the more things change the more they stay the same. Bento Box Cinema is clearly fresh and innovative, but it still has enough giant robots, scantily clad school girls and disabled maniacs to satisfy any self-respecting Japanophile.
So, when trying to figure out what to do this weekend, why not ask; what would Godzilla do?
Bento Box Cinema
1 pm Saturday, Feb. 19
3 pmSunday, Feb. 20
3:15 pm and 7:15 pmSaturday, Feb. 19
5:30 pmSaturday, Feb. 19
Eyes On Japan: Short Film Program
1 pmSunday, Feb. 20
$4-$6; day pass $10-$15
Warehouse 211614 Paseo de Peralta989-4423